While protests ravage Venezuela’s streets, murders continue to climb in its back alleys.
In the first two months of 2014 (link in Spanish) 2,841 people were murdered, a more than 10% jump from the same period last year, when 2,576 murders were registered. Homicides have grown almost systematically of late in Venezuela. Last year nearly 25,000 people were murdered, or almost 70 people per day. Murders are up 89% since 2010, and almost 500% since 1997, before Hugo Chavez became president (in 1999).
Latin America is obviously no stranger to violence—and murders in particular. The region accounts for more than 30% of the world’s homicides. Venezuela has the world’s third-highest homicide rate (link in Spanish). Venezuela’s murder rate last year was its highest on record, and this year is already well on track to break it.
Even Mexico, notorious for its deadly drug-related violence, has a lower rate. In 2013, its homicide rate (the number of murders per 100,000) was under 20 (pdf in Spanish). Last year’s murder rate estimate for Venezuela was 79, four times Mexico’s.
During Hugo Chavez’s reign, and since his death last year, the murders have gotten so out of hand that the government created a new armed force to help improve public security. It even stopped publishing homicide data altogether. The Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV) now tracks the data, much to the chagrin of Chavez and his successor, president Nicolas Maduro. The government has countered with its own numbers, widely derided as bogus, which, for example, suggest that they in fact reduced the number of homicides by almost 20% last year.
Venezuela’s growing homicide problem doesn’t boil down to one factor, but instead several. Among them: The country’s growing poverty rate; rampant corruption; high levels of gun ownership; and a failure to punish murderers (91% of the murders go unpunished, according to the Institute for Research on Coexistence and Citizen Security).
Maduro, however, has continued the tradition of pointing fingers rather than acting. He often dismisses the murder reports as distortions by the opposition press, and lately he has even blamed Spanish telenovelas (link in Spanish), and their penchant for violence, for the country’s growing murder rate—as reported by OVV. Strange that he would offer excuses for the high murder numbers, even as his government continues to deny then.